COM 270
Introduction to Theories of Human Communication
Lecture 8: Systems Theory

I. Introduction

A. Systems Theory (ST) is arguably the most frequently employed theoretical approach to the social scientific study of human communication.

B. System Theory comes to us from the sciences -- especially the field of Biology -- where scientists have long looked at living entities from a systems perspective.

EX: Fishing eco system


C. One of the more recent advocates of Systems Theory is an engineer at M.I.T named Peter Senge (<>. In 1990, he published a a book titled, "The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization" which made the NY Time best sellers list. The book is an application of Systems Theory to organizations (see review: (

II. Basic Concepts

A. A system is a set of objects or entities that interrelate with one another to form a collective whole unit.

Ex: Social Media Eco System

B. A system possesses several properties.

1. Interdependence -- the parts of the system are connected in such a way that they move or operate together as a single unit.

Ex: John Stockton and Karl Malone

2. Non-summative wholeness -- a system is greater than the sum of its individual parts . . . the interrelationships among objects allows those objects to achieve more than they could working alone.

Ex: Weight lifting

3. Hierarchy -- the parts of a system are organized in terms of "superior" and "subbordinate" subsystems. "Superior" subsystems have influence and control over "subordinate" subsystems.

Ex: Chain of Command

4. Dynamic -- the parts of a system are always changing as they adjust to internal and external fluctuations, hence the system continues to change over time.

Ex: Interpersonal relationships

5. Equifinality -- a system can achieve its goal(s) and objective(s) in different ways and from different starting points.

Ex: Education System

III. What system property is reflected in the following proverbs?

After a storm comes a calm.

The way out usually leads back in.

Today's problems come from yesterday's solutions.

Small changes can lead to big results.

There is more than one way to skin a cat.

April showers brings May flowers.

Many hands make light work.

When the cat’s away, the mice play.

Better to repair the gutter than the whole house.

As you sow, so shall you reap.

Love will find a way.

It takes all sorts to make a world.

It takes two to tango.

Don't cut off your nose to spite your face.

Garbage in, garbage out.

Where there's a will there's a way.

Scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.

Better to lose the saddle than the horse.

United we stand, divided we fall.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.









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